Our language affects what we see and how we process that information. The grammar and vocabulary of each language instills in its speakers a particular way of looking at the world. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, also known as the linguistic relativity hypothesis, proposes that the particular language one speaks influences the way one thinks about reality. How does that influence work?
The linguistic relativity hypothesis is closely related to semiotic-level concerns regarding the general relationship between language and thought, and to discussion-level concerns on how the use of language patterns in cultural context can affect thought.
The anthropologist and linguist Edward Sapir (1884-1939) and his student Benjamin Lee Whorf (1897-1941), who devoted themselves to studying the differences among languages, found that the conceptual differences enclosed in languages are not universal.
The Hopi language has no present, past or future tense. Nor do they have words for minutes or days of the week. Simply Psychology
The authors took examples from various languages, especially the Amerindian language of the Hopi, which has a single word for everything that flies, from insects to airplanes, except for birds; or the language spoken by the Eskimos, which has a great variety of words for various types of snow.
Although many scholars from various disciplines have ruled out that language linearly and directly determines thought (linguistic determinism), it is accepted that language, although it does not determine the mode of thought, does influence how we perceive reality and remember it. At present, we cannot affirm that because a language does not have a word to describe something, its speakers will be incapable of understanding a concept. The absence of numbers in certain communities (the Hopi or the Pinara have only three ways of referring to quantities: one, several, many) does not imply, for example, the inability of adults to count.
Diversity is the key
“One of the positive consequences from the explosion of English as a global language lies in the fact that all those who learn it as a second language are inevitably exposed to developing a second inner ear,” says Argentine linguist, Ivonne Bordelois in her essay La palabra amenazada (The Threatened Word). She exemplifies: “For example, Spanish speakers say mesa de luz (light table) where in English one says night table, in German it is nachttische
and in French it is table de nuit. Where Spanish sees a lamp, the others see the darkness of sleep: the same object evokes opposite sensations”.
Nuances and lack of nuances, different meanings, the absence of terms to define nouns or verbs in some languages and tongues: all these particularities determine each person’s perception of the world and its elements, depending on his or her mother tongue or acquired language.
In Mongolian, light blue (qinker) and dark blue (huhe) are profoundly different, while green, regardless of intensity, is described as a single word, nogvgan. In Mandarin, however, blue is described by one word, lán, and green is described by one word, lǜ. International Collegiate Journal of Science (ICJS)
In fact, scholars are currently interested in whether having a vocabulary term for a concept influences thinking in domains outside of the language, such as visual perception. They study examples such as the following: while English has only one word for blue, Russian has two words, goluboy for light blue and siniy for dark blue.
Lera Boroditsky and her colleagues at Stanford University displayed two shades of blue on a computer screen and asked Russian speakers to determine, as quickly as possible, whether the two blue colors were different or the same as each other. The fastest determinations occurred when the colors shown were goluboy and siniy, rather than two shades of goluboy or two shades of siniy.
To determine whether the words automatically (and perhaps unconsciously) came to mind, the study authors asked the Russian participants to perform a verbal task at the same time they performed their perceptive determination. “Our results suggest that linguistic representations normally intrude even on surprisingly simple objective perceptual decisions,” the researchers said.
That and other recent scientific studies indicate that linguistic knowledge can influence perception, contradicting the traditional view that perception is processed independently from other aspects of cognition, including language. Thus, diversity in every sense remains a captivating and challenging universe to discover.